By Patrick Miles, DVM
Personally, cleaning the litter box is not one of my favorite chores. I’ve tried self cleaning boxes and bribing my children. I have not attempted to train the cats to use the toilet simply because something seems “wrong” about having to share the bathroom with your pet. Though I’ve heard clients say it works quite well!
However, there is a lot to watch out for with your cat’s use of the litter box. Houses with multiple cats can be an additional challenge, but can still help to uncover underlying illness in your pet. Cleaning the litter box on at least a once daily frequency is typically recommended. The frequency of use, whether there is more or less urine, diarrhea, mucous, blood in urine or stools, all may indicate a developing problem. Cats that have urinary tract infections or other urinary problems may have an increased urgency and frequency in their use of the box. Blood or an abnormal odor may be noted in the urine indicating infection, or in some cases complications from diabetes. Some people are able to detect the smell of “ketones”, which indicate possible complications due to diabetes mellitus. The amount of urine produced may be decreased if a male cat is developing a urethral obstruction, or increased if diabetes mellitus is present.
The color and consistency of stools can also help determine the source of problems. Chronic diarrhea in general may be due to problems involving the small bowel versus the large bowel/ colon. Small bowel disorders often tend to be larger amounts (cow-pie), may have a dark, tarry consistency if blood is present, and frequency may be normal or increased. Weight loss tends to be more profound with small bowel disorders. Large bowel disorders tend to be smaller in volume, increased frequency, mucous and straining may be present, and have visible red (frank) blood.
Though the litter box is not the most enjoyable aspect of cat ownership, attention to its contents and use may be valuable in detecting emerging problems.